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BOMBA: THE BIRTH OF A GENRE

Luigi Conti Film 102: History of Philippine Cinema Faculty: Nick Deocampo March 14, 2012

The 1970s proved to be a major turning point in the history of the Philippines, both in politics and in the cinema. Amid protests, terrorist attacks, and civil unrest, the president declared Martial Law on September 21, 1972, curtailing civil liberties and press freedom. Lasting until 1981, it is interesting to note how the cinema, in its function as a mirror to a troubled society, had fared in that span of time. Not surprisingly, the public found refuge in the movies. In 1970, Uhaw was released to extensive commercial success. Although not garnering much critical praise1, the film banked on its sex scenes and adult themes to appeal to a society wrestling with itself. Within the year, more of these soft-core sex films were released, earning big in the box office. The emergence of the bomba genre may be attributed to three main factors: the first and most obvious of which is economic. The bomba film reasserted the duality of the cinematic medium, emphasizing its effectiveness in earning big bucks. Secondly, the emergence of the bomba film may be attributed to a cultural factor not entirely exclusive to the Philippines. It should be noted that the 60s was a period of global sexual revolution, and the subsequent materialization of the bomba was not a mere coincidence. Bomba went mostly unnoticed by censors, but by the latter part of 1970s, debates were raised about the artistic merit of the genre2, as well as the detrimental effects on the industry and thus to the medium itself. With the advent of tighter censorship and socio-political stability, the genre met its eventual demise in the mid-1990s, with the emergence of home video media. In reviewing the evolution of the bomba genre, it is interesting to note the relationship of society with the screen. As a genre, the bomba did not appear out of nowhere. Its rise and fall is a result of various factors that operate on cultural apparatuses of their time, one of which was the cinema. Only by examining these historical links can we eventually grasp the societal function of the filmic medium and gain a better appreciation of its effects on the cinema we know today.

Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr. went as far as describing the film as nothing but a disgusting piece of pornography. Uhaw: Unang Bomba From Urian Anthology 1970-1979. 2 Nicanor Tiongson. Art or Pornography? Malaya, 11 August 1985. Print.

This paper will focus more on an examination of the origins of the bomba genre and how it was born out of Hollywood sensibilities of the cinema than a tracing its evolution through the years3. A discussion of the implications of the genre in an aesthetic and theoretical plane will follow.

Defining a Phenomenon To define bomba in the strictest sense of the word would most probably produce an impasse. In colloquial cinematic terms, it is explained as a spectacle that has nudity or sexual intercourse4. The imprecision of this definition is problematic as it would include a wide range of films including, among others, Ishmael Bernals Nunal sa Tubig, and Lino Brockas Insiang. To effectively categorize the genre into an exclusive group, Tiongson establishes a boundary: Where then does pornography lie? Not in the mere exposition of nudity or sexual intercourse, but rather in the manner in which that body or act is shown. In short, a pornographic movie is one which photographs sexual organs and sexual movements with no other reason but to arouse the moviegoers sexually. Such movies subordinate all other elements of cinema script, acting, production design, cinematography, editing, and sound to its overriding concern with sexual stimulation.5

Prehistory in Another Medium Typical of generic development, the bomba did not emerge from film out of the blue. Women like Rosanna Marquez, Anna Marie Gutierrez, and Pepsi Paloma did not go about just doing the deed on-screen without the aid of a precursory medium to film. Such was the role of komiks. In the 1960s, some komiks publishers began issuing products with adult content replete with sexual themes, as well as nudity and intercourse. By the latter part of the decade,

Another, more esteemed author has been able to do it beforehand: Rolando Tolentino, Introducing the PP Films, Palabas column, Bulatlat.com, accessed Feb. 20, 2012, http://www.bulatlat.com/archive1/026roland.html 4 Personal translation of panooring may paghuhubad o pagtatalik UP Diksyunaryong Filipino, 2nd ed., s.v. Bomba 5 Tiongson, Art or Pornography?,

they were selling like hotcakes. One notable series was Cil Evangelistas Uhaw Komiks, a series that portrayed movie stars in the nude an unimaginable feat for motion picture industry at the time. Nonetheless, the declaration of Martial Law in 1972 put an end to the bomba komiks industry, although not to the bomba as a genre itself. Like all other commercial endeavors, it sought to propagate itself through other means.
Figure 1: Ruben Abaloss Uhaw, starring Tito Galla, Lito Legaspi, and Merle Fernandez.

Uhaw and the Birth of a Genre Not unlike the American Western that had its launch with The Great Train Robbery (1903), the bomba genre had a pioneering film, too Ruben Abaloss Uhaw, starring Merle Fernandez and Lito Legaspi. The film tells the story of a husband and wife discontent with their sex life after the husband is rendered impotent by an accident at sea. The wife then has a love affair with his friend, until the husband dies in another accident. Critics responses have been unanimously poor. Del Mundo points out that the movie does not have a redeemable quality, basing his judgment on two things: 1) a lack of characterization, and 2) a lack of overall production quality (e.g. script, directing, acting, and music)6. Tiongson, moreover, classifies Uhaw plainly as pornography, citing the same

reasons. He argues that the film subordinates the elements of cinema to the interest of prurience7. It was not surprising though, that, like the bomba komiks that predated it and despite critical disparage, Uhaw was a hit. Producers immediately joined the bandwagon and subsequently released other films with the same sensibilities, namely Haliparot, Hayok, Laman sa Laman, Busog all released in 1970 Luray, Hidhid, Ecstasy in 1971.
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Clodualdo del Mundo, Uhaw: Unang Bomba, Pilipino Reporter, November 10, 1970. Tiongson, Art or Pornography?

The Cash Cow that was Bomba Cinema The emergence of this new genre was primarily influenced by economic gratification. Indeed, at the height of the bomba in 1971, the Filipino film industry produced 251 movies, in 1972, 181; in 1973, 146; and in 1974, 1208. Considering the fact that 1,200,000 people flock to 1300 Philippine theaters daily, it was not so small an achievement. Producers were earning in their investments. Proof of this was the emergence of a star system specific to the bomba industry alone. Names such as Rosanna Marquez, Merle Fernandez, Sally Reyes, Reyes, Yvonne, Annabelle Rama (!), and Gloria Diaz were synonymous with the idea a of bare flesh, and their incantations were enough to whet the Filipino moviegoers sexual appetite. So much was the effect of the bomba on the medium at the time that it was capable of bringing down cultural institutions themselves one of which was the the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines (ECP). The ECP began to decline in prestige since the start of the 1980s, when its promises of ushering in a new era of cinematic glory has been reduced to the resurrection resurrection of the bomba movie. Once acclaimed for financing financing such films as Himala, Oro, Plata, Mata, Soltero, and Misteryo sa Tuwa, it began to exploit the Manila Film Center to generate more funds by screening bomba films the first of which was Celso Ad. Castillos Snake Sisters. Instead of transforming the the mainstream movie audience that it was
Figure 2: December Taliba news article chronicling Yvonne's exploits. explo

Clodualdo del Mundo, Towards the Development Development of the Filipino Film, The Philippines Daily Express, July 4-5, 1976.

formed to do, the ECP chose to pander to it9, prompting Marcos to abolish it and turn it over to the private sector. Marketing strategies were also used to maximize viewership: consider one news article10. On December 4, 1970, the bomba star Yvonne wore a see-through mini that bared everything to the public, almost causing a riot. The incident coincided with the release of her film Climax of Love, and was obviously a gimmick to attract viewers to the film. Such strategies, aside from the obvious marketing ploy of titles with sexual innuendos, were exemplary of commercialized cinema, even at the expense of the lives of its viewers11. On the part of the audience, this extreme preoccupation with sex is a form of escapism that blinds and numbs them to social conditions that cry for change. This is the greater violence.12

Sexual Revolution and Counterculture in the Cinematic Medium It is interesting to note that the release of Uhaw in the Philippines was almost coincident with the release of the popular porn film Deep Throat (1972) in the US. Indeed, upon closer inspection, the emergence of both pornographic industries appeared at roughly the same time. Most obviously, the cause of these phenomena may be traced to the sexual revolution of the 1960s, when traditional codes of behavior regarding sexuality and interpersonal relationships were transformed13. The upheavals in human conduct were a result of numerous circumstances in scientific and artistic cultural productions. For example, the pioneering research by Alfred Kinsey on the sexual behavior of humans opened a scientific discourse into an otherwise taboo issue. Psychoanalytic theory on human sexuality was also pioneered during the last few decades before the 1960s, when Sigmund Freud proposed that human behavior was unconsciously controlled by the libido, or sexual energy. The introduction of intrauterine devices and oral
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Tezza Parel, Eros and Experiment: Is the ECP Expanding the Parameters of Human Experience or Promoting Sexism and Pornography? National Midweek, November 6, 1985. 10 Taliba, December 4, 1970. 11 Bomba di nakapanood, nagpakamatay, Taliba, March 22, 1972. 12 Justino Dormiendo, Sex in the Filipino Film/Seks sa Pelikulang Pilipino Sagisag, July 1976. 13 David Allyn, Make Love, Not War: The Sexual Revolution: An Unfettered History, 2000, Little, Brown and Company.

contraceptives also played a key role in this revolution. Other advances followed suit, resulting in a less conventional view of human sexuality.

Transformation Amid Sociopolitical Change The morphology of the bomba film, like of any other genre, cannot be held in place. Its historical evolution is fairly linear, and Tolentino traces it quite neatly: the bomba film (1970Sept. 1972); bold film, wet look stage (1974-1976); bold film, daring stage (1976-1982); FF (fighting fish film) films and pene films (1983-1986); ST or sex-trip film (1986-1992); and the TT films (1992-1998); and the PP films (1998)14. In the implementation of Martial Law in 1972, the bomba needed to change. The mestiza was the prevalent star in pre-Martial Law era, embodying the Hispanic influence located in Tagalog cinema. The western concept of beauty was standardized with fair skin, sharp noses, and voluptuous bodies15. The ultra-nationalist stance of the Marcos regime forbade such screenings of European bodies in favor of the native image on screen, paving the way for the emergence of the bold film and its stars such as Gloria Diaz, Elizabeth Oropesa, and Daria Ramirez. The wet look bold film typically involved the female stars drenched in water, with their assets clearly visible beneath a thin underdress. In the latter part of the bold film phase, the female leads were characteristically young-looking in tune with the Marcos concern with youth for nationbuilding--integrating with efforts such as the Kabataang Baranggay and the lowering of the voting age16. The morphology of the bomba film genre, however, took a tamer turn as Cory Aquino stepped into power in the late 1980s. Her administrations drive to reclaim the moral good resulted in the bomba transforming from the hard core penetration (pene) films in the latter part of the Marcos dictatorship, into the sex trip (ST) film, a less explicit formulation of the bomba.
Tolentino, Introducing the PP Films Nick Deocampo. Hispanic Influences on Tagalog Cinema, More Hispanic than We Admit: Insights into Philippine Cultural History, Issac Donoso (Ed.) Quezon City: Vibal Foundation, 2008, 345-361. 16 Tolentino, Introducing the PP Films
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The titillating film (TT) was born out of discourse formed in light of Fidel Ramoss concept of the reinvention of nation, exemplified in his Philippines 2000 vision. Characterized mainly by a more active role of the objectified woman, the TT was also allowed more room for liberal exposure of particular body parts17. Nonetheless, by the turn of the new millennium, the rise of home media eliminated the need for public screenings of the bomba. Nowadays, the bomba has arguably died out. There are no more films explicitly representative of the genre that makes it out to commercial theaters. In fact, it may be argued further that Philippine cinema today is a cinema of the binary of mainstream and independent, and that a genre such as the bomba has no place in either of the two.

The Art Debate What is most explicitly debated in terms of the bomba as a generic phenomenon in Philippine cinema is whether pornography may be considered as an art form. Can the sex act, immortalized in celluloid, be considered as a product of human creative consciousness? Do bomba films exemplify the human condition in a work that merits recognition and appreciation? Tiongson gives us an answer: some do, and some dont18. He proceeds with an analyisis of three bomba films: Celso Ad. Castillos Isla, Peque Gallagas Scorpio Nights, and Tikoy Aguiluzs Boatman. He notes that the only triumphant film among the three is Boatman, mainly because it offers an important insight into the immobility of the Philippine social classes19. It tells the story of a poor boatman from Pagsanjan who uses other people and is in turn used by people of influence, so that he may achieve his dreams of fame and fortune. Throughout the story, the boatman encounters characters that are metaphorical of present Filipino class society. Stylistically, it also excels: editing is tight, scoring is creative, acting is sensitive, and production design in competent. Most of all, though, the sex scenes are controlled with the director never once losing sight of the principal message of his film.

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Ibid. Tiongson, Art or Pornography? 19 Ibid.

Contrast this with del Mundos critique of Celso Ad. Castillos Nmypha, an art film with a defective structure that prevents the director from conveying his message artistically20. He observes that Nymphas director forgot to pursue the movies thematic conflict, which is hypocritical morality versus a sexually promiscuous world, resulting in gaps in the story, and inconsistencies between the psychological make-up of the characters, and their behavior. Upon analysis of two reviews of two films from the bomba genre, it is interesting to note that their viewpoint is distinctly character-based. If the characters are not worked out as people, with specific backgrounds, classes, dreams, frustrations, idiosyncrasies, etc. so that the viewer may understand why they act, think, and feel the way they do in the film, then the movie fails as art21. Realism is given importance here, a la Andre Bazin22, albeit with respect to content rather than form. In retrospect, this line of thinking must be questioned: but whose realism is this anyway?

Conclusions In posing the question of whether bomba is art, we essentially question its significance in the history of Philippine cinema. Even so, perhaps the question lies not in the artistry of the generic medium, but on its social and historical significance. Perhaps the question to be answered now is: Was bomba just a fad? Or did it have enough of a lasting impact to contribute to Filipino national consciousness? Growing up in the immediate period after the demise of the bomba, I myself have my own bias of Philippine cinema primarily because of the bomba genre. I grew up believing that every Filipino movie contained lots of sex. Perhaps this is why I chose the present research in the first place. Identity is formed through historicity. By examining the bomba as a genre with its own historical framework, not only do we form a singular, albeit multi-faceted Philippine cinema identity, but also an identity of the nation.
Clodualdo del Mundo, Nympha: Posing as Art/Nympha: Umanoy SIning Pilipino Reporter, 1971. Tiongson, Art or Pornography? 22 It should be noted that Andrei Bazin, that great French critic and film theorist, put extreme importance on objective reality.
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BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bomba UP Diksyunaryong Filipino, 2nd ed. , Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press. Allyn, David. Make Love, Not War: The Sexual Revolution: An Unfettered History, 2000, Little, Brown and Company. David, Joel. Pornography and Erotica, Wages of Cinema: Film in Philippine Perspective. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1998. del Mundo, Clodualdo. Towards the Development of the Filipino Film, The Philippines Daily Express, July 4-5, 1976. _________________Nympha: Posing as Art/Nympha: Umanoy SIning Pilipino Reporter, 1971. _________________. Uhaw: Unang Bomba, Pilipino Reporter, November 10, 1970 Deocampo, Nick. Hispanic Influences on Tagalog Cinema, More Hispanic than We Admit: Insights into Philippine Cultural History, Issac Donoso (Ed.) Quezon City: Vibal Foundation, 2008, 345-361. Dormiendo, Justino. Sex in the Filipino Film/Seks sa Pelikulang Pilipino Sagisag, July 1976. Parel, Tezza. Eros and Experiment: Is the ECP Expanding the Parameters of Human Experience or Promoting Sexism and Pornography? National Midweek, November 6, 1985.. Reyes, Emmanuel. Notes on Philippine Cinema. Manila: de La Salle University Press, 1989. Yvonne, naghubad sa lobby ng Gala Theater. Taliba, December 4, 1970. Bomba di nakapanood, nagpakamatay, Taliba, March 22, 1972. Tiongson, Nicanor. Art or Pornography? Malaya, 11 August 1985. Tolentino, Rolando. Introducing the PP Films, Palabas column, Bulatlat.com, accessed Feb. 20, 2012, http://www.bulatlat.com/archive1/026roland.html